But one person who is most certainly not rubbish, and deserves our complete admiration, is Sue Marsh, blogger and disability campaigner with crippling Crohn’s disease, who, along with others with similarly disabling conditions has led the research which has gone into today’s Responsible Reform SpartacusReport, a crowdsource funded report carried out by Sue and her fellow sick & disabled campaigners in their spare time, having had to use the Freedom of Information act to access the public government consultation on welfare reform. (Figures and any other facts quoted in the blog are from this report, which is itself thoroughly referenced).
The story behind this is all pretty widely known in the disability campaigning community, but what if this is the first you’ve heard about welfare reform? Or if you think disability benefit claimants are all lazy, complaining & exaggerating scum, or “dribbling cripples” deserving nothing but pity? It’s easy to think it doesn’t affect you if you don’t know much about it, or if you’ve had the misfortune to buy into the stereotypes peddled by the media, but disability benefits are a lifeline to many and may be to you in years to come. Changes in health can come suddenly and unexpectedly:
- If there is the slightest risk of you ever sustaining a head injury (road traffic accident anyone?)
- If you have risk factors for diseases like stroke (having worked with stroke victims, I can tell you that living with the aftermath of a stroke is SCARY). Smoking, high blood pressure & family history are the main risks
- If you have a condition which may later become progressively worse or complicated, for instance MS, or loss of sight or limbs with diabetes
- If you have ever worked with sick or disabled people
- If you have friends or family who have difficulty working or living their lives independently because of a medical condition
- If you have any condition in your family (like autism) which your kids or grandkids may inherit / have inherited
- If you are planning kids (or your kids are planning your grandkids) and have any of the usual worries that it may be born less than 100% healthy
- If you love someone to whom any of the above applies…
…then welfare reform affects you.
Please read on, share the link to the report (here) and use “I support the #spartacusreport” on Twitter & Facebook. Most importantly, email your MP and ask that they read the report and respond. The government says it’s listening to disabled people, but has been shown in this report to be doing the exact opposite. Make them listen.
We will not stand for 20% cuts to the most vulnerable in society when there is no justification for it, when there is still real, genuine need, and when the disability benefit fraud rate stands at only 0.5%.
We will not stand for the government & popular media continuing to demonise the sick & disabled, and propagate the myth of the disability benefit “scrounger”, hugely overquoting rates of benefit fraud in this group of claimants and using dismissive & derogatory terminology.
Why is this so important?
It often costs more to live when you have a disability, especially if you have a carer, whether that be the loss of income incurred when you cannot work yourself and a partner or family member have to give up their job to look after you, or whether you need special equipment to help you with your activities of daily living (ADLs) and mobility or help with transport costs to access medical treatment (if you need specialist help only available at regional centres this could be a couple of hundred miles round trip).
The current target of government reform is Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which was introduced to address this additional cost. It is not, unlike most other benefits, means-tested, so if you have qualifying problems affecting your daily life then you automatically get it depending on the severity of the impact of those problems. This aspect of it probably needs reform, but despite disability benefit fraud rates being 0.5%, the government wants to reduce the DLA budget by a massive 20%. Meaning they will remove vital support from a big chunk of genuine claimants – with – and this is the crucial part – genuine needs. Perversely, this DLA money can even keep some people in work by allowing them to buy for instance aids that will maintain mobility, and yet they still want to cut it.
The government wants to scrap DLA and replace it with Personal Independence Payments, or PIP, as part of the welfare reform bill. This change would cost an estimated £675million to administer (I don’t see how this would aid deficit reduction myself) and to paraphrase the Responsible Reform report, cause great cost in human suffering – as benefits which are often also lifelines are arbitrarily cut without thought or understanding, or even consideration of human rights legislation.
The government has consulted on the welfare reform bill, but has not followed its own guidelines. The consultation should have been open for 12 weeks, but rather than extend this further to allow full engagement of the sick & disabled people it affects (for instance some may need larger print or braille copies), it was closed 2 weeks early, and 2 days after debate on the welfare reform bill had begun. How could the government be taking into account the views of disabled people and their families & carers if they had already decided the legislation?
The Responsible Reform Spartacus report seeks to highlight all these failings and more. Using Freedom of Information legislation it summarises in detail the responses to the consultation that were received but never fully published, and seeks to ensure that ministers have access to the full facts before voting on the proposed changes that will make our society’s vulnerable even more ill and marginalised. Even Boris Johnson’s response to the consultation on DLA opposed the changes, explaining how it would unfairly discriminate against people with fluctuating conditions (which is pretty common) and demanding justification for the 20% cut in light of the 0.5% fraud rate.
These are the most vulnerable people in our society and they in the most part will have nowhere else to turn if their benefits are cut. Reform needs to be responsible, and engage intelligently with stakeholders – in this case sick & disabled people, their families, carers, and specialist charities. Please – get involved.